Tuesday May 8th, 2018 - For this concert of works in the key of C-minor, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center put together an exceptional line-up of musicians. The CMS debut of violinist Augustin Hadelich was a particular reason to celebrate, as his performances of the concertos of Barber and Beethoven at Carnegie Hall in recent seasons have been nothing less than astonishing.
This was the first time that the Society have offered a program built entirely around works in a single key signature. It was an evening of music-making of surpassing excellence.
Mr. Hadelich opened the evening with colleagues Clive Greensmith (cello) and Inon Barnatan (piano) in a performance of Beethoven's Trio in C minor for Piano, Violin, and Cello, Op. 1, No. 3. With this convergence of artists - the poetic Mr. Hadelich; Mr. Barnatan, ne plus ultra of contemporary pianists; and Mr. Greensmith, who impressed me greatly at his CMS debut appearance in October 2017 - expectations were high...and fully met.
Composed in 1794-95, the 3rd is considered the finest of Beethoven's Opus 1 trios. From a mellow start, the music quickly gives the violin a calling-card passage which Mr. Hadelich played with the suave tone we have come to expect from him. In this Allegro con brio, mood swings abound: from bliss to melancholy. The piano sounds dashing, the violin sweet, the cello takes up a mellow, waltzy passage. Things turn dramatic, then Mr. Barnatan sets off on some brisk scales, every note reminding us of the proverbial 'string of pearls': such clarity and assurance.
How ideally these players are matched becomes supremely evident in the Andante cantabile with its set of variations. From a simple start at the keyboard, the strings make a lovely entrance. Mr. Barnatan's playing draws commentary from the violin and cello; and Mr. Greensmith's turns of phrase have a lovely polish. Mr. Barnatan rippling motifs, with plucking strings, lead onto a pensive theme passed from cello to violin and back. Following an animated variation, the movement ends calmly.
The Menuetto starts graciously, but there are exclamatory stops along the way. Mr. Barnatan serves up some charming piano flourishes, at variable dynamics, before reeling off some breezy downhill scales. Violin and cello make elegance the key.
The Prestisssimo finale takes off from an energetic start, carried forward with a swaying feeling. Two pauses give the listener pause, but then the music propels onward, the three voices mingling delightfully. For a bit, delicacy takes over. Then a free-flowing feeling returns, yet little hesitancies and lulls still crop up. Big scales from the Steinway, running down and up, give us a final bit of Barnatan bravura.
Greeted by a rousing round of applause and cheers, the Calidore String Quartet then took the stage for a performance of the Brahms Quartet in C-minor for Strings, Op. 51, No. 1, that can only be described as gorgeous. My co-writers Scoresby and Ben Weaver had each been bowled-over by these musicians during the past year; recently, over lunch, Ben enthused in particular over the Calidore's cellist, Estelle Choi.
Ms. Choi's playing in the Brahms tonight was sublime, and her wealth of tonal allure sets the basis for the Calidore's melodious blend. From their agitato start of the quartet's opening movement, the Calidore displayed a surety of rhythmic impulse that's a true hallmark of their style.
The autumnal glow of the Romanze, meditative and lyrical, brought a beautiful integration of the voices. In a central passage, a feeling of hesitancy reminds us that little silences can be so telling. The themes then recur, and the ending has a gentle glow, opulently sustained by the Calidores.
Subtly anxious, the third movement's cello pulsing and melodic forays bring Ms. Choi again to the limelight, as does her richness of tone and passionate delivery in the quartet's concluding Allegro. In an interlude, affecting harmonies again allow us to bask in the Calidore's meshing of sounds. Following an intense passage, and a rush to the finish, the players received tumultuous applause.
The second half of the evening was given over to Gabriel Fauré's Quartet No. 1 in C minor for Piano, Violin, Viola, and Cello, Op. 15. Begun in the summer of 1876 but not completed until 1879, this quartet was written at a time when the composer was infatuated with the great mezzo-soprano Pauline Viardot's younger sister, Marianne. The music's colours and melodic moods seem to reflect the ups and downs of this affair of the heart.
Opening with unison strings, the Allegro molto moderato brings marvelous opportunities for the fabulous Mr. Barnatan and the the achingly expressive trio of string players: Mssrs. Hadelich and Greensmith joined by the violist Matthew Lipman. Their sheer glamour of tone, as the themes ebb and flow, was entrancing. A turbulent passage, and some superb playing from Mr. Lipman, bring us back to the opening tutti.
The Scherzo is a miniature gem in itself: the plucking strings and sprightly piano dance along charmingly. Mr. Barnatan's touch is ever-delightful, so subtle yet alive. An interlude of harmonized strings and playful pianism leads to a min-cadenza from the Steinway and a da capo wherein we can again enjoy the appealing lightness of mood.
Things turn positively somber in the Adagio, wherein Mr. Greensmith's sumptuous tone and the pure poignancy of Mr. Hadelich's playing were steeped in romantic luminescence. The four players explored depths of passion before a simply amazing softness from Mr. Barnatan's keyboard drew us to a glorious passage from Mr. Greensmith. Unison strings, together with simply remarkable playing from the pianist, developed an overwhelming richness of feeling, almost unbearably beautiful. As the piano becomes pensive, the descending strings have a powerful emotional impact. Mr. Barnatan's playing takes on a ghostly fascination.
In the restlessness of the concluding Allegro molto, themes pass from viola to cello to violin, each singing forth. Suddenly, a full stop. A rippling motif from Mr. Barnatan has a magical effect, whilst Mr. Hadelich revels in a high-flying passage. The descending piano transforms to a rhapsodic finish.
The crowd, which included many young people, rose up to salute the four musical paragons with resounding applause, calling them out for a second bow.